Here is India’s largest, at times ludicrous yet all the time thriving and living congregation of India’s Hindus. The city is peppered with the constant drama of life, that flows in an union with the dance of living this paradise called life. You would have envy and be awestruck at the acceptance of this cyclic nature here. One side is the famous weaves and the rustling silks, on the other a strange method to this madness called Benares. This madness is called hope.
As I sip my lassi and enquire the direction towards the wholesaler of Benarasi sarees. A body passes by me that chants Ram Naam Satya Hai. I stop midway between gulp and guilt at my question for my vanity. But as usual, Benares beckons you laughing and gurgling. This is life here. An ending and unending, tireless yet tired.
My Baba had taken me to Varanasi as a 16-year-old. Navigating the ghats of Manikarnika watching the souls seeking salvation. The sense of this chaos stayed back and it taught me lessons. That my inflated ego and obscene ambitions were all transient. Benares continues whatsoever. Flowing peacefully with the ugly and the beauty hand in hand.
Baba got me my first Benarasi sari from the looms there. I was guilt ridden for forgetting the fire from the pyres quite like a stoic soul. And the moment I saw the colours of the Benarasi saris being unfolded near me. Luring me that life goes on. It had overtaken my heart and
senses. I humbly understood that Benares had taken over me. Moments you are a disheveled and next moment you are deliciously decadent, discovering the vain in self. I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken mirror opposite the shop floor and I quickly held the sari against my skin and it looked pretty and pristine. Momentarily my grief was buried under the swaths of silken fibre and folds.
My nostalgia for the past is a constant companion. I knew I had to do this trip again with my son who was leaving for London in a week. I wanted him to experience the Ganges on the Ghats, the snake-like traffic and roads that were filled with paan stains and potholed. In that chaos, you have to find life, was what I was trying to teach my little one. I knew his innocent 17 year old mind, wasn’t grasping this juxtaposition of life, looms and love. I called it, fidelity to the faith called India.
We were directed to the most popular lassi shop of Benares on the path leading to Manikarnika Ghat and the small ubiquitous shops that had saris and more saris. Stacked one on top of the other. The lassi shop owner who was constantly chewing paan and had a red mark on his forehead spoke to me with his absolute delectable Bhojpuri Hindi that his lassi shop was the best in Benares. He seemed to know everyone there and told me if I needed any help with any information. He would be happy to help.
I finally gathered all the information from my walking, talking Benarasi directory, of where to go and which galli to enter to find the looms and the artists, behind those voluminous yards of silk, gold, silver and the typical Benarasi decadence.
I navigated my way between dead bodies being carried and the queue of the family following. And it was only men who did this act of bravery. I found my looms selling and creating those masterpieces of vanity and beauty forever.
What I found was mind-boggling. There were paisleys, flowers, tantric circles and birds all celebrating life, made with zari on the saris. I touched the silk against my skin and felt it’s softness against my own. The colours were mixed with eclectic ease of an artist. I remember
how everyone would say at my wedding I would wear The Benarasi weave. This is what hopes and dreams are made of. I couldn’t negotiate the price. Because art has no price. It is priceless, ethereal and ephemeral. The Paisley was delicate and the parrot was fertility. There are no price tags to this confluence of India’s best weave.
As I packed my saris. I heard the loom clank against each other in the creation of another sari and another sound that was side by side of a dead body being carried away. Her birth and death live in complete harmony. I understood that as long as we live, we love, possess and also give in to the beauty and the beast inside us. Both together and both separate. But both in tandem in this dance of life, death and the looms of the weavers of Benares.
Benares Kash – a curated show promises to harmoniously blend together the age old art of Benarasi weaves passed on from generation to generation. Come be a part of this splendor where you can directly be in touch with the real creators of the Benarasi fabrics and garments on the 11th and 12th of October in Mumbai at the Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS.